May 19, 2010
"Come on, Jay!" Warren Garfield bellowed. "Put some muscle into it!"
The teenager standing on the pitcher's mound rolled his eyes. As usual, his coach's only solution was yelling at one of his players. Jay Allen fingered the baseball in his hand, trying to figure out how to deal with the guy batting. It was the last inning, and there was one out. Two more, and no lucky hits, and they'd win the game by one point.
Nah. No pressure.
He wound up, deciding to try a curveball on the loser. Unfortunately, this loser could hit a curveball. Jay swore as the bat made contact with the ball, sending it flying high into the air over his head.
It landed smack in the mitt of the right fielder, who nearly had to climb the fence to catch it. With a whoop, Marc Mendez held up the ball for all to see. Jay let out a sigh of relief; Marc always had to be the center of attention, but he was damned good at bailing his best friend out. "Out!" the umpire yelled.
One more to go. Jay tried a curve again, and was relieved when the guy swung and missed. "Strike one!"
He intended his second pitch to be high and fast, but the minute the ball left his hand, he knew it was all wrong. The batter was expecting a speed pitch instead of the slow lob, and swung early. "Strike two!"
Irritated, Jay caught the ball as it was thrown back, trying to figure out what to do. On top of everything, he wasn't feeling that great; he tended to get occasional spikes of adrenaline from time to time, something that his dad said had to do with metabolism, but today it had been ten times worse than usual. He'd been having spikes of adrenaline and downswings where he wanted to pass out all day. Now, he was so wired that it would take tranquilizers to calm him down.
The heat wasn't helping. Jay wiped his brow, cursing the weather. Eighty-two degrees, and it wasn't even Memorial Day yet.
"Allen!" Garfield's shout jolted him from his thoughts. "Sometime this century!"
Anger flared at that point, only fueling the adrenaline rush. Jay gritted his teeth, holding back the temptation to pitch the ball right at his coach's head. Why he'd ever been hired as Central's baseball coach was beyond Jay, and he was starting to discover that his dad's stories about the retired police captain's temper were true. He found it hard to believe that Garfield had become crabbier over the years.
He suddenly didn't care how the game turned out. All he wanted to do was nail that ball over the plate. Jay wound up and pitched the ball as fast and as hard as he could.
Something snapped into high gear at that moment, as his arm moved so fast that even Jay couldn't see it move. Nor could he see the ball as it flew over the plate and into the catcher's mitt. What he did see was that less than a second after the ball left his hand, something hit the catcher's mitt so hard that the guy flew backwards, crashing into the wire mesh fence.
He still had the sense to hang onto the ball, and as the catcher held it up for all to see, the ump finally shouted, "Strike three! You're out!"
Garfield gaped. "I'll be damned," he muttered to himself before the implications hit him. The game was over. Central High had finally beat Eastern, 6-5. He let out a yell of triumph and immediately went to find Eastern's coach and gloat.
Jay remained on the mound, staring at home plate in shock. It was only when he found himself surrounded by the rest of his team did he snap out of it long enough to trade high-fives with Marc. But amidst the cheering and shoving, he wondered: what, exactly, had just happened?
"I don't believe it," Marc said for the third time. "This is not happening. Coach actually agreed to pay for pizza?"
Jay glanced around the restaurant, smiling. The Pizza Hut on the edge of town didn't get a lot of business on a Wednesday night, so they'd been able to seat the entire team with room to spare. Even the team assistants were there. "You're complaining? Besides, you saw him on the field chewing out Eastern's coach. The old man practically did a victory dance right in front of everybody."
Jenny Bellows, a freshman who was only there because she was the team statistician, spoke up from her seat next to Jay. "I heard him arguing with Mrs. G. She said if he even tried to bring us to her restaurant, he'd be sleeping on the couch tonight."
Marc looked over to where Garfield was arguing with his wife, Mavis, and shrugged. "Could be. Anyway, you think anyone here'd go for health food? I sure as hell wouldn't."
Jenny shrugged and nudged Jay. "You eat anything today?"
"Hmm?" Jay asked through a mouthful of cheese pizza.
"You know what I mean," she continued. "What is that, your tenth piece?"
Jay finished off his slice before speaking. "Twelfth, I think."
"Twelve pieces?" Marc stared at his friend as they both snagged slices from the nearest tray. "That's a pizza and a half!"
"So what? I'm hungry." Jay glanced down to where the Garfields had ended their argument and were back to being disgustingly cute again. "I'm not paying, anyway."
"Good point," Jenny conceded, taking a sip of her Coke. "You probably need it after you had to pitch for Zaleski the whole time. That loser faked sick today because he didn't want to lose to Eastern again."
Dave Kline, a senior who played second base, grabbed himself a piece as Jay inhaled his thirteenth slice. "Hey, I'm glad Zaleski chickened out," he said. "Eastern would've probably kicked our asses again if he'd been pitching." He punched Jay in the shoulder with a rare show of respect. "I didn't even see that last pitch. You chug a couple Red Bulls before the game or what?"
"Seriously," Jenny added. "That was one hell of a throw to knock Jimmy back like that. Wish I could've clocked it."
"Yeah, well, I don't think I could do it again," Jay said. "Something kind of snapped then, but I don't know what."
Dave grinned. "Lemme guess. You pictured Garfield's head in Jimmy's mitt."
Jay shrugged. "Sort of."
"Forget the details," Marc said. "We kicked Eastern's ass."
Jay had eaten the equivalent of four whole pizzas by the time the bill was handed to Garfield. "Uh-oh," Dave muttered. "Something's gonna blow."
Not wanting to be in the line of fire, Jay scooted out of his seat and started edging towards the men's room. Fast hands or no, if Garfield pinned this one on him, he was a dead man.
On the way, he collided with a girl his age standing by the normally functional jukebox, pounding on it in frustration. "Oops. Sorry." He would have moved on, but it registered that he had bumped into a really pretty redhead.
"That's okay," she said absently, pounding on the side of the machine again. "This thing's not working." She peered behind the jukebox thoughtfully. "Wonder if something's not plugged in back here." She'd set her cell phone on top of the jukebox, and as she leaned in she accidentally knocked it behind the machine. "My phone! Oh, great. That was smart."
"I've got it," Jay volunteered, dropping to his hands and knees partially to escape Garfield's line of sight and partially for the goddess beside him.
He snaked an arm back through the tangle of wires behind the jukebox, navigating towards the phone that was resting in a small nest of tangled cords. It was kind of a miracle the jukebox was still functional, really; the wiring hadn't seen the light of day in forever. Jay snatched it up and had almost gotten his arm completely free of the tangle when his wrist hit a frayed wire.
The current sizzled through him, and for a second it felt like the electricity was coursing through his entire body. But it was only for a second as Jay let out a howl, jerking back as quickly as he could.
Instead of just pulling himself free, he managed to fling himself back against the wall. Hard. The impact seemed to smash his insides together, and Jay slumped against the wall for several moments, staring into space and gasping for air. Dazed, he glanced down at his hand, which was still clutching the phone. At least that was something.
He finally looked up to see that a crowd of familiar faces was gathering around him, the most prominent of those being the redheaded girl, her green eyes clouded with worry. "Are you all right? Can you hear me?"
Jay shrugged and held out his prize. "I got your phone."
"I didn't want you to kill yourself over it!" she cried as Garfield shoved his way through the crowd to kneel beside Jay.
He looked fairly concerned, evidently having forgotten about the bill. "How many fingers am I holding up?"
"Four," Jay answered correctly, pulling himself up. His coach and the girl helped him wobble to his feet.
"Mavis," Garfield shouted. "Call an ambulance!"
Jay shook off their hands. "No, no, I'm fine," he insisted, adding more loudly, "I'm fine, okay? I don't need to go to the hospital."
His coach did not look convinced, inspecting Jay's hand and wrist for burn marks and finding nothing. It vaguely occurred to Jay that he probably should have had some kind of electrical burn on his wrist, but he wasn't coherent enough to really care. Mavis came over to stand beside her husband. "Do you have a ride home, Jay?"
"My mom was going to pick us up," Marc offered, stepping forward. "But she's not going to be here for another hour. I can text her, but you know, it's gonna take her half an hour to get here anyway." The TV studio Marc's mom worked at was right in the middle of town.
Garfield looked at Jay thoughtfully. "Get your stuff. I'll take you home."
"But, Coach -"
"No buts. Unless you want to go to the hospital." He turned to his wife and counted out the pizza money from his wallet. "Mavis, hon, I'll be back in maybe half an hour. You sure you can handle these hooligans?"
She smirked as she took the money from him and gave him a peck on the cheek. "If I can handle you, I can handle them."
Jay sighed and went to grab his gear before following Garfield out the door.
"Figures," Garfield said suddenly.
Startled by the break in the silence, Jay stared at his coach. They had gone several blocks without speaking. "What?"
"Nothing," Garfield sighed. "You and your dad, you're two of a kind. Stubborn as hell."
"Coach, I said I'm fine."
"Lousy liars, too," the old man continued, never letting his gaze stray from the road. "Your dad got hit by lightning and the son of a bitch came in to work the next day. Course, then he'd run off and do stuff like leave a crime scene on a hunch all the time. Must be in the genes."
Jay didn't quite know how to reply to that, so he didn't as they pulled up in front of his apartment building. He remembered his father mentioning something about an accident, but hit by lightning? Of course, Garfield could just be exaggerating. So preoccupied with his worries was Jay that he didn't protest when Garfield insisted on coming up with him.
As Jay unlocked the door, he was mildly surprised and dismayed to discover that his father was already there. Barry Allen didn't notice his entrance at first; he was too preoccupied with the tug-of-war he was having with their golden retriever. Earl Junior, whose name had come from Barry's imagination (or lack thereof, as Jay's mother liked to say), had a mouthful of one of Barry's T-shirts. Despite the fact that Barry was literally pulling the dog across the linoleum, Junior refused to let go.
When Jay shut the door, his father looked up at the sound and immediately let go of the shirt upon seeing the two of them standing there. Junior skidded back several inches and landed on his haunches. "Jay? How'd your game go?"
"6 to 5, we kicked their asses." Normally, Jay would have elaborated, but he was exhausted. "What are you doing home?"
Barry shrugged. "Turns out there's nothing I can do." Garfield let out a snort at that. "I'm serious," Barry added as he shook hands briefly with the retired police captain. "The Feds got in on the investigation, and they're driving Captain Chase crazy getting into everything."
"Chase is already insane," Garfield said sourly. After his retirement, he hadn't been thrilled about his replacement. "Allen, I need to talk to you for a minute."
Jay rolled his eyes. Oh, Lord. Once the coach spilled the beans to his father, he'd get absolutely no peace. For once, he was glad his mother wasn't going to be back until late the next evening; if she heard about this, she'd never leave him alone. And he was too tired to deal with any of it. "Look," he said finally. "I feel like sh - uh, crap, so I'm just gonna crash, okay?"
Without waiting for an answer, he shouldered his gym bag and tromped off to his room before either of them could intercept him. He sagged with relief once he was in the comfort of his own room, an escape from the weirdness of the afternoon. It was messy as usual, except for his desk in the corner, which he only tried to keep cleared off to avoid burying the laptop. On the bulletin board above it was tacked a myriad of newspaper clippings and printouts.
One or two of them had to do with his friends and family - his mother's research, his cousin Shawn catching a serial killer and getting promoted to detective. There was even an article about the medal his dad had been given a few years back. It was an odd thing for a forensic scientist to get, but Barry had been in the wrong place at the right time.
Of the hundred and six people locked in City Hall with a bomb, he had been the only one with any clue how to disarm it since the bomb squad couldn't even communicate with those trapped in the building. The politicians, businessmen, and reporters had no clue, but Barry had managed to keep it from blowing them sky-high - by figuring out how to neutralize the chemicals used.
Most of the clippings were about the Flash, though. Over the past five years, sightings of the Flash had become less and less frequent - there were a couple videos on YouTube, but camera phones couldn't get more than a red blur. Jay had collected clippings for longer than that. His dad had helped him by cutting out anything he found pertaining to the Flash; Barry seemed to find it funny, for whatever reason.
Right now, Jay was too tired to ask why. He tossed the bag in the corner and kicked his shoes off, leaving his door wide open. As he flopped down on his bed, he could see the living room and the front foyer past the upper landing. The last thing he saw was his coach and Barry talking quietly, and his father getting more and more agitated as Garfield spoke.
Then a warm darkness engulfed his senses, and he fell asleep.
Jay had forgotten to set his alarm, but that was a moot point since his stomach woke him instead. It was an effort to get up, jump in the shower, and change before finally making a beeline for the kitchen. Jay yawned and poured himself a bowl of cereal, keeping the box beside the bowl as he swallowed it down.
The kitchen was empty and quiet. His father was still asleep, since he usually didn't have to get up until six-thirty. Considering that he'd been sent home early, he probably didn't have to go in early anyway. Jay figured his father wouldn't be up until seven. His mother was at a conference in California, which annoyed Barry to no end. Jay didn't see what his dad's problem with California was, but knew better than to ask. Either way, she would be flying back in late that night.
He barely thought about what he was doing as he refilled the bowl once, then twice, unable to satiate his hunger. By the time he started to feel full, there was nothing left in the whole box of cereal, and without thinking, he'd already emptied half of another box.
Not to mention that it was almost seven by the time he realized that. "Shit!" Forgetting about the cereal, Jay sprang up from his seat, tossing the bowl in the sink and all but throwing the milk in the fridge as he scrambled to grab his things and stuff what he needed in his backpack.
His father was stumbling sleepily into the kitchen as Jay found his keys and yanked his shoes on. "Sorry, Dad," Jay managed to gasp, "I'm late!" Before his father could even say a word, Jay was already out the door.
Barry stood there for a moment in the empty kitchen, dazed. Then he picked up the cereal box and peered inside, frowning, as Junior poked his head up from the couch. "Wasn't this a new box?" he asked the dog.
Junior just whined as the implications hit his master. "Yeah, I thought so," Barry sighed. "Great."
Pouring himself a cup of coffee, he reached for the phone.
Jay reached the bus stop too late. As he rounded the corner, he could see a yellow shape in the distance moving farther and farther away. He muttered something profound like, "Oh, hell," and took off running after it. Maybe if he could get the driver's attention in the rearview or caught it at a light, he could still catch it.
He hit his top speed and kept going, his surroundings suddenly melting into streaks of lights and colors. Before he had a clue what was going on, Jay was racing down the street at blinding speed that shouldn't have been possible. He passed the bus by in a second, his speed turning him into an unrecognizable blur.
Marc sat up and stared as something flew past the bus at an alarming rate. "Hey! Did you guys see that?"
Realizing something was wrong, Jay hit the brakes in time to crash into some bushes. As he got to his feet, dusting himself off, he glanced up at the street sign and gaped. He was at the corner of Fifth and Oak, twenty-seven blocks from home. Not only had he passed the bus, but the school as well. Central High was two blocks behind him.
Cursing under his breath, Jay picked up his backpack and headed towards school, this time taking it slow.
"You sure you're okay?" Monica Ryder asked Jay as they walked down the hall amidst the usual group of friends. Monica was Marc's somedays girlfriend - some days they were dating, some days they were friends. Jay had given up trying to keep track.
She was also the fifth person who'd asked him that question since lunch. "Yeah, I'm fine. I swear."
"Well, I'm sorry," Monica said, undaunted. "But come on, Jay, you went back to the lunch line what, five times today? Knowing the kind of crap they serve?"
"Yeah," Dave spoke up from behind Monica. "You have any idea how old the meat they use is? And I've heard it's not even real beef; they catch sewer rats and cook them."
Rolling her eyes, Jenny poked Dave in the back. "Shut up. You know that was a rumor. It's really processed dog food."
"I was just hungry," Jay sighed.
"That's not hungry," Marc put in. "That's a tapeworm."
Jay cuffed his friend in the shoulder. "Knock it off."
He didn't smile, however. Monica and Marc exchanged worried looks as Jay looked up at the clock and groaned. "Gardner's test is open book, right?"
Marc grinned, turning to high-five Dave, who was also in their history class. "That's what the man said."
"Then I've got to go get my book or I'm screwed. Can you cover for me?"
"No prob," Monica said. "The teacher's pet is at your service."
Marc snorted. "Yeah, right. The old man drools over every ch- uh, woman in the class." He corrected himself under Monica's glare. Dave ducked out of the line of fire, jogging towards the classroom. Jenny rolled her eyes and disappeared into the crowd.
"You're just jealous," Monica teased as she and Marc headed for class, arm in arm, while Jay zeroed in on his locker. Apparently, they were dating this week.
He had about a minute to get his book, and without even thinking about it, whipped through the combination at super-speed. Jay was beyond caring in his haste to get his books, but he did open the locker at a semi-normal speed and snatched his history book out.
"Hey, are you okay?"
Jay slammed his locker shut, whirling to see a familiar pair of green eyes. The snide response he was going to say died in his throat as he recognized the girl from the night before. The most profound response he could muster was along the lines of "Oh, uh, yeah."
"I was kind of worried," she explained hastily. "I didn't mean for you to risk your life for my cell."
"It's okay." Jay rubbed the back of his neck. "Really. It wasn't all that bad." And it was worth it, he added silently. "Um, I've never seen you around here."
She smiled, a genuine smile that lit up her whole face. "Maybe that's because I transferred last month." Something occurred to her. "Oh, I forgot. I'm Sarah. Sarah Masters."
"Jay Allen." The late bell rang, and he stiffened. "And I'm late."
"Me too. I'd better get to Bio." She reached over and stuffed something in his hand before turning and running down the hall. "See you later, Jay!"
Jay looked down to see that he was clutching a scrap of paper. Curious, he unfolded it and grinned as he read the cell phone number written on it. Stuffing it in his pocket, he dashed to class before any of the teachers could catch him, his troubles temporarily forgotten.
By the time the last bell rang, his troubles were back in full force.
Jay stared at the note tacked on the door of the men's locker room. "What do you mean, practice is canceled?" he shouted at it, expecting and getting no answer. "Why didn't anyone tell me?"
Agitated, he kicked futilely at the door. It didn't budge. Scowling one last time at the note, Jay turned and stormed up the hall, down the stairs, and out into the sweltering May afternoon. The buses were long gone, of course, but with luck he might be able to bum a ride from a sympathetic senior.
If such a thing existed.
His stomach was growling again, only adding to his foul mood. Throughout the day, Jay had been unable to shake the constant adrenaline high, and was becoming increasingly irritable. He was starting to worry now. It was plain to see that he wasn't fine at all. Maybe he did have a tapeworm - but no, that wouldn't explain the pitch, or the run to school, or his locker. As much as it pained him to admit it, Jay was starting to think he should let his folks know, just to find out what was wrong.
But he wasn't sure if it would be worth it. Jay wasn't prepared to have to deal with his mother and all her tests. When he was little, she was always checking everything to see if something was wrong with him. Testing was a regular thing until he was ten, when he had put a stop to it. She had agreed, but if he actually admitted something was wrong, he wouldn't be able to escape. Maybe this was just a phase. After all, it could just have something to do with that "metabolic problem" his dad was supposed to have. Maybe it would pass.
The beep of a horn jolted him out of his reverie. Seeing the person leaning out of the car that had pulled up to the curb, Jay gaped. "Mom?" He jogged over to the car. "What are you doing here?"
Tina Allen sighed and opened the passenger door. "I missed you the whole six days I was on the other side of the continent too, Jay," she said as Jay rolled his eyes and hopped in. "And if you must know, I caught an early flight. There was no point in sticking around for Dr. Faulkner's lecture on the life cycles of several endangered species indigenous to Sri Lanka."
Despite himself, Jay had to smile. "It was that bad?"
"Some of it was dull, boring, useless filler, yes." The corner of Tina's mouth quirked. "But there were some high points. It looks like they're serious about slowing up research towards chemical warfare and nanotechnology in favor of medical research for once."
"Hope so." Jay didn't ask her to elaborate; she'd launch into a technical and possibly boring explanation. Besides, she'd have to explain it to his father at dinner, and for Barry she'd put as much as she could in layman's terms.
He noticed the large number of grocery bags filling the back seat. "Did some shopping?"
"I had to," his mother answered. "After a week of Barry's cooking, I thought you'd be dying for real food." She paused. "To tell you the truth, Jay, I came early because Barry called me."
"I'm fine!" Jay exclaimed for the thousandth time that day.
She winced. "Well, I can tell your lungs are in working order." At his scowl, Tina sighed. "Jay, he was truly worried about you, otherwise he wouldn't call. You know your father; he doesn't admit anything's wrong unless he's broken a few bones. And he knows better to call me unless it's an emergency."
"Dad was going nuts for you to get home this whole week," Jay countered. He picked up a pen from the dashboard and idly flicked it between two fingers.
Tina smiled. "Maybe, but he knows the grief that I'd give him if he called me home over nothing." She caught Jay's eye in the rearview mirror. "And he knows something's wrong."
Jay sighed, staring out the window. "Trust me, he doesn't know about this." He turned back to her, suspicious. "You're not going to run any tests, are you?"
"If there's anything seriously wrong, Jay -" She trailed off at his moan. "But I'm not running anything tonight. Right now, I think you have to have a talk with Barry." Tina bit her lip. "If this is what I think it is, Jay, he knows what you're going through."
She braked as the light up ahead turned yellow, then red. Jay shook his head to clear it. His mother sounded like she thought it was just a high metabolism like his dad had. But this was major. She didn't get it, and he didn't know what she was going to do when she found out what was really going on with him. Hell, he didn't understand what was going on.
"Yeah, right," Jay muttered, and flicked the pen into the air.
He didn't check himself, though, and right in front of his mother's surprised eyes, his hand moved at super-speed, sending the pen flying like a missile past Tina's face, out the open window, and into the store window across the street. As it struck the plate glass, there was a cracking sound, and there was a spiderweb of cracks around the pen that was embedded in the window.
Both mother and son stared at the window, then back at Jay's hand. Shocked, Jay stared at his hand, unable to believe what he'd done. If he'd flicked his wrist a little differently, it would have hit his mother instead of the shop window. "Oh my God," he heard her say.
Panic surged inside Jay as he threw the car door open. He had to get out of there. "No," he muttered.
Tina was looking at him with worry and caution. "Jay -"
"Just leave me alone!" He jumped out of the car before the light could turn green again, slamming it shut and taking off down the sidewalk, kicking into high speed.
As he bolted blindly down the street, the world became a blur.
The light turned green, and Tina quickly took stock of the situation. Her son was heading east, running down the sidewalk of a one-way street in the opposite direction, so following him was out. Not to mention that she couldn't have caught him anyway. The vendor was coming out to see just what had hit his window, and the guy behind her was getting impatient.
She pressed down on the gas and headed through the intersection, pulling over after a few blocks and reaching into her purse. After a quick search, she pulled out her cell phone. "Barry, I know you're working, but this is important."
Jay didn't know where he was going, and didn't care. What he did know was that he was starting to tire out. He hit the brakes in time to keep from colliding with a post, collapsing into it instead. He almost hugged it as he held on for support, letting out a series of gasping sobs. "I'm going insane," he muttered to no one in particular. "This isn't happening."
After a moment, he had recovered enough to take stock of his surroundings. He was in an abandoned warehouse. Down by the docks, of all places. The perfect place to go to escape your troubles. Jay mentally kicked himself; to say he'd landed in a high-crime area was an understatement at best.
Outside, he heard voices, and footsteps. On instinct, he dived for cover, hiding behind a stack of rotting crates. Ignoring the smell and dampness, Jay crouched behind them, peering around one of them to see what was going on. Five stocky guys in suits, three of them bodyguards in mirrored sunglasses. Great, Jay thought. It's like "The Godfather" meets "Men In Black."
He ducked back into hiding as they spoke. "Are you sure he came in here?"
"I'm telling you, Vinnie, it was the Flash. He came in here, I'm damn sure of it."
"That didn't look like the Flash, Mr. Tandino. No red costume."
Tandino? Jay cursed his luck. Forget the crime rate of the area; Mickey Tandino was rumored to be the head of a pretty vicious crime syndicate building power in Central City. Hell, the Feds were after the man.
He checked his pockets. Empty. He must have left his cell in the car. Crap.
"Yeah, well, nobody but the Flash moves that fast. Must be undercover. Heard about where we do our transactions." There was a pause. "Search the area. Nobody leaves til we find him."
Jay's blood ran cold at those words. He briefly thought about trying to make a break for it, but discarded that idea immediately. He'd run himself down getting here, and in this heat, he was going to have trouble running at normal speed. He was drained, hungry, and light-headed. I'm a dead man.
"Hey, Mr. T! Look what we have here!"
Strong hands grabbed him as two of the bodyguards roughly yanked Jay from his hiding place. Jay tried to struggle, but stopped, seeing there really wasn't much of a point. He was dragged before the mobster, who snorted. "You've gotta be kidding me. This is the Flash?"
"He's the only one we could find, sir."
Tandino rolled his eyes. "Forget it. He's a kid. The Flash was around when he was in diapers." His eyes narrowed. "Speaking of which, kid, what're you doing down here?"
"I ran away." It was the truth, more or less.
"Uh-huh. I'm sure. And right into my territory."
Jay coughed. "That's the way my luck is running." A fist slammed into his stomach like a wrecking ball, and he doubled over in pain. "I swear to God," he croaked.
"That's enough," Tandino snapped at Jay's attacker. "What's your name, kid?" he asked as the two goons pulled Jay to his feet.
Again, the truth, sort of. "Henry." Hey, the guy didn't specify that it had to be his first name, after all.
Tandino didn't say anything for a minute. Then he stepped forward and grabbed Jay's chin, pulling his face up to study it. Jay never looked away, trying to play brave. He was too tired to panic or whimper anyway. "How old are you, Henry?"
Jay spoke through clenched teeth, expecting another punch. "Sixteen."
"Sixteen." Tandino repeated it in a quiet, deceptively calm voice. "Maybe you are, kid. But I dunno - you could be twenty-three, for all I know. Did you see the Flash come in here?"
"No." This time Tandino signaled for the punch that Vinnie sent into Jay's face. It was hard enough to bruise, but not to break. "No, I didn't see the Flash come in," he repeated, looking the mobster right in the eyes.
"Probably." Tandino stroked his chin. "That could be because you are the Flash."
Jay let out a weak chuckle despite himself. "You've got to be kidding me."
"Are you sure?" No punches were thrown, but Tandino's voice was going from calm to threatening. "I saw someone run in here so fast it coulda only been the Flash. I saw nobody running out. All my men found in here was you, and you say you're not the Flash. Now how can that be, Henry?"
Jay opened his mouth to answer, but the world was spinning. He closed it, sure that if he opened his mouth again, he'd end up spewing all over Tandino's expensive loafers. Then he wouldn't even have a snowball's chance in hell of surviving this encounter. He swallowed against the rush of bile in his throat, trying to find an answer that would satisfy them. But he didn't have to.
"Because I'm right here."
Tandino whirled at the voice, and Jay glanced up in time to see the figure in red before the Flash sped towards them, turning into a crimson blur. One of the thugs grabbed his gun, slamming the butt of it into the back of Jay's head. His captors pulled their guns as Jay was thrown down and forgotten. But before any of them could fire, the guns were whipped from their hands as Jay hit the concrete floor hard. As he tried to lift his head, to recover from his fatigue, he heard a few shouts and several dull thuds as Tandino and his associates were taken out of commission.
Strong hands grabbed him again, but this time they weren't trying to cause pain. Jay closed his eyes, barely able to focus, only making out a bright haze of red. He groaned as he felt himself being lifted up, weakly struggling against whoever had a hold of him. As he teetered on the edge of consciousness, he heard a familiar voice. "Jay, it's me. Calm down, you're going to be all right."
Jay had time for only one last coherent thought before he was swallowed by oblivion.
Someone was cooking bacon.
Jay moaned as he opened his eyes a crack, squeezing them shut at the bright sunlight that was streaming through the window. His head felt like an overripe watermelon, and his entire body felt like a lead weight. He rolled over, facing away from the window.
Then it hit him. Sunlight? Through his window? What time was it?
He sat up sleepily, stretching his arms out and working out the cricks in his neck despite the aches and pains he was feeling. As his vision came into focus, he was surprised to find himself in his own bed in his room. He put a hand over his eye, expecting to find some swelling or tenderness, but it felt normal. He couldn't tell if it felt sore because his whole head hurt too much. Jay blinked a few times. Was it all just a bad dream?
If it was, it was Wednesday morning. And according to his alarm clock, he should have caught the bus a few minutes ago. It was 7:15 a.m.
He stumbled into the kitchen to find his mother making breakfast. Well, it wasn't Wednesday. "What day is it?" he groaned as she looked up.
"It's Friday," his dad answered, coming out of the bathroom.
Jay blinked a couple times, willing his brain cells to function. "Why didn't anyone wake me up? The bus just left."
"Because you're not going to school today," his mother said matter-of-factly. "Not in the shape you're in."
Staring at them for a moment, Jay turned and shuffled off to the bathroom to splash cold water on his face. As he did so, he caught a glimpse of his reflection in the bathroom mirror.
There was no swelling, and it wasn't tender. The black eye he should have had was completely healed. But bruises like that took several days to heal that much, and he should have been sporting one hell of a shiner. Jay grabbed the bottle of Advil, shook two out and gulped them down, groaning. The events of the previous afternoon were starting to come back in vivid detail, and it was starting to look like it had really happened.
Fully awake now, he stormed back into the kitchen. "Okay, just what the hell is going on?" At his parents' innocent looks, Jay exploded with questions. "How did I get back here? Why aren't you at work? Why aren't I at school, although I'm not complaining? And why," he added, staring at his mother, "are you cooking bacon?" Of all the things Dr. Christina Allen harassed her son and husband about, it was trying to eat healthy. Bacon was not on her list. "When did I wake up in the Twilight Zone?"
It was his father who finally answered. "Number one: we'll tell you after breakfast. Number two: I brought you home. Number three and four: we told everyone it's a family emergency, and it is. Number five: it's probably better if we talk about this on full stomachs." He paused and shrugged, looking sheepish. "I don't know about number six."
Jay stood there for a minute, torn between bolting again and between giving in. The bacon and eggs smelled really good, and he didn't think he'd get anywhere before he hit the dirt. His parents were looking at him, waiting to see what he was going to do.
"All right," Jay conceded as he sat down across from his father. "Hope you made enough."
Miraculously, there was enough to go around. Breakfast was eaten in silence, partially because no one really knew what to say, and partially because there was no point in conversation the way Barry and Jay were shoveling their food down. Tina glanced at her son and husband and sighed.
Finally, Jay's hunger abated, although his father was still going. His mother noticed this with a curious expression. "What?" Jay asked. "I'm full."
"I'm glad," was her answer. "At least you're not at his level." Barry continued eating and ignored them as Tina sipped her coffee and Jay slipped a piece of bacon to Junior. It seemed like a typical Saturday breakfast with the two of them waiting for Barry to finish while Junior sniffed around under the table.
He didn't take long. "I'll clean it up," were the first words out of his mouth as Tina shot him a look.
As Barry put the dishes in the sink - his idea of "cleaning up" - Jay reached down to scratch Junior behind the ear, thinking. He was feeling a lot better now, and thinking a lot more clearly. But he was still trying to make sense of the previous night's events. He'd gotten down to the docks, caught by Tandino, been saved by the Flash - but just before passing out, he could have sworn it was his father reassuring him that he was going to be all right.
Jay stared at his dad, who was actually going a step further and putting the dishes in the dishwasher, as a sudden possibility popped into his head. No, it couldn't be. It wasn't possible.
He stared into space, the idea nagging at the edges of his consciousness. Of course, he could just be losing his mind. It was insane anyway.
It took him a second to realize that his mother had retreated to the bedroom, leaving Jay alone in the kitchen with his father, who was again sitting across from him. "How's your eye?" Barry asked finally.
"It's okay." Jay rubbed at it absently. "Too okay. Dad, am I going crazy? None of this makes sense."
His dad sighed. "Tell you what," he said after a moment. "You tell me everything that happened before last night and I'll tell you what I know."
"I don't know," Jay began.
Barry reached over and patted him on the shoulder. "I don't think you're losing it. The skeptic's leaving us alone for a minute. Just tell me what's going on with you."
Sighing, Jay started to relate the past day and a half's events, from that last pitch to the jukebox to chasing the bus down to the locker combination up to the point when he'd taken off at the intersection and wound up in the wrong place at the wrong time. His father listened attentively, actually seeming to believe his crazy story, and on some level that made Jay feel better. "So what do you think?"
Barry sighed. "You're not insane. You're stupid for taking off on Tina like that, but you're not insane. And you should have told me last night if something was wrong."
Jay groaned and put his head in his hands. "Dad..."
"I'm not mad at you." His father paused. "All right, maybe I am a little. But if you hadn't stumbled into one of Tandino's little hideouts when you did, we wouldn't have been able to nail him on anything. Turns out those crates in the corner were packed with cocaine." From the bedroom, Tina cleared her throat loudly. "I'm getting there!" Barry shouted down the hall.
"What?" Jay asked, utterly confused.
"How much do you remember about that?" his father asked.
Jay frowned. "A lot, but I don't know how much of it I imagined." He looked at his father warily, still denying his suspicions. "You going to tell me what's going on or what?"
"I guess I'd better start at the beginning," Barry sighed, looking at him with a resigned expression on his face. It was almost as if he knew exactly what Jay was thinking. "Your mom always talks about my metabolism. You've heard all that already. But that's not the whole truth."
"Dad," Jay said warningly, almost afraid of what his father was going to say.
"Shut up and let me finish. This whole thing started a few years before you were born." Jay sighed and sagged in his seat, reluctantly listening. "I was working late with Julio at the lab, which wasn't all that smart considering there was one hell of a thunderstorm going on at the time. Julio had the sense to leave when it got bad, but I decided to stick around and finish up.
"The second he walked out the door, lightning struck the building. Problem was, the lab was on the top floor, and there was no lightning rod, and I was holding a pair of metal tongs." He shook his head. "And if that wasn't worse, I managed to have a whole rack of chemicals land on me at the same time. I woke up with everything intact, but there were some side effects."
Jay sat there for a minute as his father trailed off, letting it sink in. Garfield hadn't been exaggerating after all, and the scale of the accident was almost scary. Struck by lightning and having a whole rack of chemicals dumped on him - it was like a Frankenstein movie.
Something like that could have killed his father. So what kind of side effects would it cause? "Wait a minute -"
Barry was nodding. "You're not the only one who outran the bus he was trying to catch." He snorted. "Of course, I ended up thirty miles off course."
Comprehension dawned. "It was you," Jay muttered, then started shaking his head. "No. No way. Dad, come on."
Sighing, Barry stood up, taking his son by the arm and pulling Jay to his feet. There was a rush of air, a sudden tug, and the next thing Jay knew, he and his father respectively landed on the couch and the old armchair in the living room. It was a second before he recovered from the shock enough to stare at his dad, sitting across from him and looking fairly embarrassed. "Convinced?"
Numbly, Jay nodded.
"You could have found a better way to convince him, Barry," Tina admonished, sitting down beside her husband on the couch. "The last time you pulled a stunt like that -"
Barry reached over and put a hand over Tina's mouth. She simply continued talking loudly through his hand, although nothing she said was comprehensible. Jay couldn't help but grin; this was an old routine between his parents. At least they were acting normal. Well, not normal, but like themselves.
Tina said something serious. "What?" Barry said. "I can't hear you."
She pulled his hand away. "I said, 'Take your hand off my mouth or I'll bite it.'" Barry jerked his hand back.
Jay blinked. "Mom, you knew about this?"
"How do you think we met in the first place?" she answered. "This isn't something you can just go to the doctor about."
"Hell, she even made the costume," Barry put in.
Tina sighed. "Reluctantly." She turned back to her son. "Jay, I'm guessing this can't be easy to deal with."
"You're telling me," Jay groaned. "God, I'm confused."
His parents exchanged glances. "So what do you want to know?" Barry asked.
There were a million questions buzzing in Jay's head, and he voiced the first one that came to mind. "Yeah. Where's the costume?"
"In my trunk," Barry said automatically. Tina sighed and rolled her eyes. "What? I put stuff on top of it!"
"I'm amazed the whole city doesn't know it's you by now," his wife muttered.
"Who does know?" Jay asked. "Other than us."
Barry sighed. "Well, Tina, obviously, and Dr. Powell."
Jay sat up in surprise, remembering the book his dad had bought for him a few Christmases ago. "Dr. Desmond Powell? The Nightshade?" After his secret had been revealed, Dr. Powell had rejected the movie deals, but his book had made the bestseller list for nine straight weeks. It was one of the few books Jay had ever read in his free time all in one night. "You're kidding."
"No I'm not, and I'm too tired to prove it." Barry sat back, thinking. "Julio's known for a while. I chickened out a few times when he came close to finding out, but then he really did find out who I was." He anticipated the next question. "Marc doesn't, though, and neither does Sabrina."
Jay sighed. "Good." Best friend or no, Marc couldn't keep his mouth shut about anything. "Does Grandma know?"
"She figured it out for herself. I told Dad about a year before he died."
Tina smiled. "I told you so. She knew it was you the minute you opened your mouth in front of her and Julio."
"I still can't believe she never said anything," Barry sighed, continuing. "And Megan does too, but she's not telling anyone."
"Mmmm-hmmm," Tina murmured. Jay had only met Megan Lockhart once, but the fact that she and Barry had dated tended to put Tina slightly on edge.
"Tina, she'd have made a book out of it by now." His wife just smiled and patted his arm to reassure him that she was teasing. "Oh. Never mind."
"So," Jay said after a moment. "Why didn't you tell me?"
His father looked decidedly uncomfortable. It was obviously a question he'd been asked before - Jay could just see Julio in a huff, shouting the same question at his father - and not one that was easy to answer.
So his mother was the one that answered. "For one thing, we hoped that this wasn't going to happen," Tina explained. "You survived adolescence with nothing worse than a fairly high metabolism, and we assumed it would stay that way."
"That reminds me," Barry muttered. "I owe Julio ten bucks." Tina elbowed him sharply.
Jay was still giving them both an accusing look, and she added, "Jay, you told me to stop the tests six years ago. I couldn't have predicted this back then, and when you shot up a foot and a half in less than a year and were taller than me, nothing had happened. We were starting to think that maybe you hadn't inherited Barry's abilities at all."
"You could have warned me," Jay said sourly.
Barry shook his head. "No, we couldn't have," he said as his son stared at him. "Oh, come on, think about it. You think it would have helped knowing ahead of time? You would've spent all the time wondering when it was going to happen to you. And would you have kept your mouth shut if we told you when you were little?"
Jay was silent for a few moments, staring at the floor. "I guess not."
"Jay." His mother reached over and took his hand in her own. He looked up. "Are you sure you're all right with this?"
"I don't know." He pulled away, standing up and heading to his bedroom to throw on a clean shirt and shorts and pulling on his shoes. "Look, I need to take a walk. A normal walk."
His parents stood up. "Wait a minute," Tina said.
"Alone, Dad." Jay sighed. "I'm just going to take the bus down to Crystal Beach. I'm not going to do anything stupid." He picked up his keys. "I'll try to be back by noon. I just need to think."
His father sighed. "All right."
There was a sudden hiss and rush of air behind Jay as he sat on the sand, watching the waves crash on the beach. This section of Crystal Beach was empty and abandoned, partially because it was a weekday and everyone else was in school or working. "It's almost one."
Jay turned to see his dad flop down on the sand beside him. "Yeah, I'm sorry, Dad. Guess I lost track of time."
Barry nodded, but didn't say anything. The two of them sat there for several minutes in silence, watching the waves crash on the shore. "So you got her number?" Barry said finally.
"Huh?" It was the last thing he'd expected his father to say. "Oh. Yeah, I did." He couldn't help but grin at the thought of Sarah.
His father noticed this. "I'm guessing you're going to call her."
"I was going to," Jay trailed off. "I don't know, now."
Jay stared at his dad as if he'd grown an extra head. "You really have to ask?"
Barry sighed. "Look, Jay, you can't let this get in the way of a normal life. You just have to learn to control it." He scratched the bridge of his nose. "Just don't go out to dinner for a first date."
Jay smirked. "Yeah, I'd be broke in no time."
"At least you stopped at four pizzas," Barry sighed. "Takes me half a dozen."
Sighing, Jay leaned back and stared at the sky. "Is it normal to just freak out? I mean, I kind of lost it when I found out practice was cancelled and no one told me."
Barry frowned. "I don't remember that happening. But then again, this happened to me a long time after puberty hit."
Jay didn't say anything. It made sense, kind of. They sat there for a few more moments before he asked something that had been bothering him ever since he'd found out.
"Dad?" His father turned to look at him. "Why did you do it?"
It didn't take a genius to figure out what "it" was. "I didn't start out that way," Barry said after a moment. "Fact is, I went to Tina in the first place to try to get rid of my powers. Then your uncle Jay was killed." He clenched a fist at the memory. "I guess it was revenge at first. But I felt like I could have done something to prevent it. After the Flash showed up the first time, I found out pretty quickly that it wasn't going to be the last."
Barry thought about it for a moment. "I don't know - I guess I got sort of addicted for a while to the danger, the rush -"
Jay groaned. "I'm not listening to this. You sound like a Mountain Dew ad."
"Okay, okay." Barry sighed. "That, and suddenly, every time something serious happened, for once I could do something about it, instead of working in the lab all the time. If I didn't do it, who would?" He sighed. "Tina wasn't thrilled, of course. She was always trying to bail me out of trouble."
"And always yelling at you?" Jay guessed.
Barry snorted. "Yeah. I guess now I can see her point. I used to run right in without a plan all the time. She kept me from getting myself killed." He rubbed the back of his neck. "To be honest, I think I'm slowing down in years. I've been doing it a lot less lately. Maybe Tina's right. I'm over fifty and I still put on that speed suit."
A thought popped into Jay's head. He didn't like the idea at all, but the question had to be asked. "You don't think I should -"
"No." The vehemence in that one word was enough to cut Jay off. "You do what you want to do with your life. Like maybe give that girl a call." Barry grinned. "I like doing this, no matter how much it aggravates Tina. Maybe someday I'll give it up." He checked his watch. "Speaking of which, we'd better get going. She wants to run some tests, and I can't blame her."
Jay groaned as they got to their feet. "Are you kidding me?"
"Sorry." His father shrugged. "Considering all the trouble I had, you should let her. Just in case there's any side effects we don't know about."
"I don't believe this."
Barry patted his son on the back as they walked up the steps to the roadway above the beach. "Look at it this way. She wants both of us to torture. Misery loves company."
"Great," Jay sighed. He started when he saw the empty road. "Hey, where's your car?"
"I didn't drive here." His father was grinning wickedly.
Shaking his head, Jay sighed. "Mom's going to kill you."
"I've done worse. Race you home?"
Jay looked uncertain, but then a grin spread across his face. "Last one there has to clean up the kitchen." He took off then, leaving Barry standing there.
Barry watched him streak off, then started laughing. "Cheater."
With that, he followed suit, and for the first time in years there was not one but two streaks flying towards Central City.